Friday Question of the Day – What is the most Symbolic Building that Represents DC’s Revitalization to you?

4915 Georgia Ave, NW

I’ve always been fascinated by this bar turned church and since long vacant on Georgia Ave. And I’ve said to myself when this storefront gets renovated – it will mean this section of Georgia Ave will begin to be revitalized. So I did a triple take when I saw the signage above (covering the small Jesus lettering) announcing funding for a new project.  Anyway it got me thinking about other symbolic revitalization spots that had been long vacant  like the Wonder Bread Factory, Howard Theatre, the Boilermaker Building, Uline arena and others.  So what renovated or soon to be renovated vacant building most represents DC’s revitalization to you?


127 Comment

  • yamamasmama

    Howard Theatre for me

    • That’s the first one that came to mind, and I’ve never even been. Dramatic transformation + historical significance.

    • Stinky Safeway!

      I win!!! Yaaay!!! 😛

    • Waaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyy Before the Howard theatre was the renovation of Tivoli Theatre. That was one of the First signs that things were changing. I was living on this side of town back then. Haven’t even been in that area in about 5 years.

      • Didn’t the Tivoli renovation take place around the same time as the DCUSA project? (Or maybe shortly thereafter?)

        • I don’t remember Target and those places being opened when I lived over there. I remember Tivoli square being built first- those townhomes because I just knew that I would be buying one–[email protected]…. But maybe I’m wrong with my time lime.

          • You’re probably correct — my vague recollection was that they happened around the same time, but maybe the Tivoli project was completed while DCUSA was still under construction? Or maybe I am confusing the Tivoli project’s completion with the project getting tenants — didn’t finding the commercial tenants take a while?
            I remember the days when that whole chunk of 14th Street was actually easy to drive through, rather than a mass of backed-up traffic, people illegally double-parked, etc. Now I would never consider driving down that portion of 14th Street if I needed to get from north to south or vice versa.

  • The vacant roller rink that became a Harris Teeter in Adams Morgan.

  • The Monseñor Romero apartment building

  • The Meridian Pint site.

  • Murrys h street turning into a whole foods

  • Park Morton …. Oh wait.

  • The Hecht wearhouse on New York ave

  • I still remember DC right after the riots when Rev. Dr. King was murdered and the cesspool it became through the 70s and 80s. Blocks and blocks of what is now a vibrant downtown were empty, shuttered and burned out. So many buildings fell to rubble or were demolished before they could. So for me the buildings that represent its revitalization are Union Station and the Willard Hotel, both of which I saw with bulldozers inside of them when they were slated to be torn down.

    This picture from the 1980s, inside the WIllard:

  • City Center— From Old Convention Center to what it is today and still transforming is amazing.

    • saf

      Let me show my age here – the “old convention center” was still under construction when I got here.

  • VarnumGuy

    To be totally cheesy, I think the whole city is a symbol to revitalization. There could be a (valid) argument that parts of the city, however, have been left behind (Anacostia) and there are still areas that need to be focused on. I’ll agree with the poster that said DCUSA, mostly because I’ve been in DC 16 years and used to have friends living in CH. When they visited recently (after not having been back for years), they couldn’t say anything, just mouths agape, at the changes that have happened (in a good way.)

  • justinbc

    For me it’s easily the Mission on 14th Street. From homeless shelter to million dollar condos, doesn’t get much more of a turnaround than that. (I would also make an argument for CityCenter, which was a giant bus parking lot for years.)

    • I mean, not really a bus parking lot for that long. Maybe 10 years? Best remembered as the old convention center site.

      • justinbc

        10 years is about twice as long as many people stay in DC, so I would say that’s a substantial amount of time.

      • Accountering

        I remember it as the place where my dad liked to park to go to Caps games, so yes, remembering it as a parking lot is appropriate for me!

      • Wow. The old convention center was imploded about a month after I moved to DC, and eventually became that parking lot. Now I feel old.

  • I’ve lived in DC since ’91 and for me it has to be the Verizon Center. I think many people would point to that as the beginning of the DC turnaround.

    • I agree with this comment. I was born in DC, remember the riots (at least from seeing them as a child when I was very young) and know how sketchy most of the city was prior to the Verizon Center. It definitely marks the beginning point of the change.

      • I am with you on this. Verizon Center seemed to be the beginning of a huge development boom that has continued to this day.

        • What about the Reeves Center coupled with the opening of the U Street Metro?

          • And (I think some years later) the completion of the middle of the Green Line, so that it actually ran all the way through instead of having a gap in the middle.

    • Agreed. I was in attendance (as a student journalist) the day they broke ground on the Verizon Center, and I remember at the time the naysayers scoffing at the idea that it could revitalize downtown. Guess we all learned that a little optimism never hurts.

    • I wasn’t here when the Verizon (MCI) Center was built but know people who were and they say the same thing. For me, it’s DCUSA though. I realize many are not happy with the architecture and chain restaurants the development brought, but I remember walking through Columbia Heights at night when there was nothing at that location and thinking it might be a lifetime before the area felt vibrant and welcoming to a pedestrian. I was wrong.

    • Oh, absolutely – good call.

    • This seems right as a really major turn around point for the city.

  • bfinpetworth

    There really was nothing sketchy about Union Market prior to the current iteration. It was just not upscale. I (a white person) actually enjoyed shopping there. Now it is very nice but it lost its edge that made it so interesting previously.

    • Yup. Nothing really sketchy about Union Market other than the lack of yuppies (well, before that is).

    • i shopped there before too. it wasn’t edgy at all. just cheap/normal stuff but dingy.

  • 9:30 Club on F St becoming J. Crew. That area was a ghost town at night when I was in high school going to shows.

  • my house

  • most recently? Probably Le Diplomate. Just a few years ago it was a shuttered dry cleaners with homeless folks creating piles of stuff on the sidewalk, now you have to reserve a table a month in advance to eat a $40 steak with recent college grads and their moms.

  • brookland_rez

    Frazier’s Funeral Home on the corner of FL Ave and RI Ave that became condos.

  • Le Diplomat

  • For me, I’ve always thought that if the Kennedy Theater at 326 Kennedy Street is revitalized, that area has truly changed.

  • “Le Slum Historique” mural in Shaw at Rhode Island, Q & 9th now pricey barber shop Hell’s Bottom and house.

  • Please define sketchy. Funny how “sketchy” has now become the code word for “not white enough”

    • Sketchy means something with the perception of being dangerous.

    • I don’t think it’s meant to be code for that but since almost no poor white people live in DC it’s kind of become code for that.

  • Becks

    The Howard Theater most represents DC’s revitalization to me. I lived in the area before the theater was rebuilt and the mood of the area and the pride people take now are noticeable.

  • Verizon Center is a good one. Also, any time I’m having brunch in a neighborhood and realize that I used to buy weed on the same street back in the 90s.

  • O Street Market.

  • Petworth Safeway

  • Accountering

    To me, disregarding the usual suspects (Verizon Center etc) I am leaning towards the stinky safeway on GA Ave now becoming the stroller Safeway. Park Place made sense, and the other buildings closer to metro, but this was an established business, presumably making money, that private developers tore down, built from scratch, and made it nice. This was a huge change in Petworth, and really the one that makes me think the neighborhood has finally made it.
    The other one I would throw out there is the Whole Foods in Logan. That changed that area quickly.

    • Ahh, the Whole Foods in Logan is a good one. I remember when I used to have to convince friends to go to the New Vegas Lounge (across the street from the Whole Foods) because it was in the “middle of nowhere” and one night coming out and seeing a guy’s rims being stolen off his car. Going back there now and the liveliness around there, it’s hard to believe it’s the same place.

      • I remember trying to convince my roommates in Capitol Hill that there were cool places on H Street opening up.

  • As a resident of Columbia Heights, DC USA is the building that most symbolizes revitalization for me. I lived in the neighborhood for five years before that building opened, and I despaired on multiple occasions that it would never be built and that I would be doomed to live surrounded by empty lots or have to move if I wanted to live in a neighborhood that provided basic services.
    Others have mentioned buildings that are also symbolic of revitalization for me, such as the mission on 14th and Le Diplomate.
    Although it’s not a building, the stretch of Mass. Ave. between Thomas Circle and New Jersey is also emblematic of revitalization for me. I moved here 14 years ago to attend Georgetown Law (which is at New Jersey and Mass). I wanted to walk or bike to school and remember walking down Mass. Ave to see what the commute would be like. It was so very, very grim, full of abandoned buildings and empty lots.

  • Agree with most of the others. Another major change was Room and Board opening in the Taylor Motors building on 14th Street. I think this was the first national chain (excluding Caribou Coffee) to open on 14th Street. And then there is the LIncoln Theater.

  • I just thought of another one that will be huge to me when it is rennovated: the McMillan Sand Filtration Plant. It is in a prominent spot and I have been driving past it for decades wondering why they don’t do something with that site.

  • Another white person here who has been shopping in union market for years, before the transformation. Weird comment you made.

    • I’ve never felt particularly safe in that part of town, granted I usually just drove through there from Capitol Hill on my way in and out of the city. I still don’t feel particularly safe when I take the bus to Union Market, but maybe that’s because most of the warehouses and such are closed on the weekends. It could have a totally different feel in the middle of a weekday.

  • Le Diplomate

  • Many people will roll their eyes, but the “NOMA” neighborhood. I’ve lived in DC-area for 6 years and Eckington for 4 years and that area has exploded. Every empty lot is developing or bought with plans to be developed – and let’s not forget NPR building.

    • Truth. I remember being so sketched out when my roommate told me she walked home from Ibiza one night. Now Ibiza is surrounded by shiny high-rises.

  • “bar turned church”

    I strongly disagree that this is progress 😉

  • For me as someone who lived in DC in the 90’s it is a number of areas, Chinatown/downtown for sure, you didn’t walk around there after dark. Columbia Heights (DCUSA), let’s just say that it was a lot different back in the day. And without a doubt the whole U St. Corridor (Vermont Ave, Florida Ave, 14th St.) – I remember when I used to walk from the Towers to go to Republic Gardens and there were a good number of crack houses/dens that are now million dollar condos. Hell even H st. NE has totally changed, you couldn’t even drive down that damn street even a few years ago, not to mention 15+ years ago.

    • As someone who’s lived in DC since the *70s*, no three buildings represent DC’s revitalization more than Verizon Center, the Whitelaw Hotel and the Black Cat.

      • I was going to say the area around the black cat most represents the change for me. I remember going to shows there back in college and thinking how sketchy it was. Now I live close to the area and when I walk past the Black Cat I am still surprised that is where it is because the area seems too nice.

        I also agree with the Whole Foods on P. I also went to shows at the New Vegas Lounge before they renovated (and after). When the Whole Foods and the condos/apartments built by PN Hoffman came in, that area changed significantly. And quickly.

        The rule growing up in this area used to be never go east of the park or 16th street… So much has changed…

        • Ha!! I avoid west of 16th for the opposite reason!

          I had family who lived on Ark and R for decades. I remember coming to see them in the 80s….maannn if you had told me I would be living in DC I would have cried.

    • I would also add the area around Nat’s Stadium. There were a few straight and gay clubs over there but other than that, you just didn’t go over there unless you knew somebody or were the police.

  • U-Line arena. From hosting pro sporting events and major concerts (including Beatles 1st in US) to makeshift jail by 1970s to trash transfer station as recently as 10 years ago to historic designation in 2006 and now in pipeline for massive redevelopment. Its rise, fall, and subsequent rise perfectly encapsulate DC’s revitalization

  • jim_ed

    I think there’s a dozen projects that could equally fit the bill, but for me its the old Nation/Capitol Ballroom in SE near the ballpark. It was a beat to hell neighborhood when we’d go see shows there in high school, then I lived there for two years, and finally, we were priced out of it. Kind of a DC-in-miniature experience.

    • brookland_rez

      I miss Nation. I’ve been here since 2004 and saw so many great punk bands play there: NOFX, Bad Religion, etc.

    • That was such a sketchy neighborhood back in the day. I realized early on that if I was driving to the venue to go to Buzz (the Friday electronic-music night) or a concert, either I’d be paying some homeless guy $10 to “watch” my car, or I’d be paying $10 to park in a parking lot. I chose the latter. (Except for the nights when I’d get there so early that the homeless guys weren’t on duty yet, and I could get a street parking spot without having to pay protection money for it.)
      There were also a number of “adult” businesses in the area. I also remember driving nearby, looking at the signage on a storefront, and saying out loud in disbelief, at the same time as my passenger did: “In and Out Video???”

  • the Cat AIDS strip mall that turned into condos on 14th street hill/Chapin

  • Yes to Howard Theater, DCUSA, Whole Foods. I moved to DC in the mid-80s and have seen head-turning changes. The question is hard to answer because it depends on the neighborhood where one works, lives, shops and/or socializes. The Ellington and the new Lincoln Theater on U St were a huge changes to my neighborhood. As these buildings were built, they signified a shift away parking lots &flea markets to a new U St. On a much smaller scale, when I first got a dog in DC, going to Dogs By Day and Night on 14th St (now Batch 13) was my experience of watching 14th St evolve from a no-go zone to its present buzz state.

  • Most of you youngsters only know it as the ugly government building with Marion Barry’s name on the side of it, but the Reeves Center at 14th and U really was symbolic as a turning point for Ward 1 development. U Street and Adams Morgan weren’t always overrun with upscale bars and restaurants.

  • Verizon is a good one. I personally never thought Petworth would see “Stinky” Safeway turn into the “Swift” Safeway it is now!

  • Verizon is a good one and I think it started it all. I personally never thought Petworth would see “Stinky” Safeway turn into the “Swift” Safeway it is now!

  • For me, it’s not so much a new building (there are many to be sure), but the gradual demolition of the Sursum Corda favela. I live a few blocks away and its demise has certainly improved the neighborhood.

  • In Popville world sketchy means a number of things but mostly it means not white enough to where I feel safe/the cops likely won’t be around the corner or it doesn’t resemble the people/area I grew up with/in. At the end of the day most of you live in what would be described by many of you as “sketchy” areas 5-20 years ago, hell all of DC but for Georgetown would have been sketchy but even then some of those stores would have been deemed sketchy by many of you at the time. This is no diss to everyone on Popville, especially to those that lived through it, you know what it is, black or white. I just get so tired of hearing words like “sketchy” from people that have no sense of urban/city living. If it is not homogenous relative to you, it is sketchy I guess. SMDH.

    • Preach – couldn’t agree more

      • Agree. I listened to a 20-something in Columbia Hts say he wished he had been there 10 years ago to buy a house and now everyone his age is getting priced out. I had to remind him that 10 years ago, Columbia Heights looks nothing like what it does now and that were he to have bought then, it would have been taking a chance. And that no one his age wanted to live there 10 years ago because it was “sktechy.” (<– to echo the mot du jour). That's why it's expensive now… because the risk is over and the place is developed.

        • There were definitely people like him living in Columbia Heights in 2004… but there were also other people saying, “I don’t know about that. I’m not sure it’s safe enough yet.”

        • Yeah, I was a 20-something who bought in CH 10 years ago. There were more than a few of us at the time, and even the Blade was reporting that it was the next hot neighborhood by then. Most of the financing for DCUSA was pretty secure, as was the Tivoli project, so I wouldn’t say the risk was all that great. On the other hand, it was a couple of years before I could convince people to come up to my house for a party, bc most of my friends thought the neighborhood was still pretty dodgy.

          Now if you want the real pioneers, go back to the late 90s, when the city was giving the houses away for free. Those people took on something much more real. Sure, they got property essentially for free, but they were getting hollowed out shells, agreeing to pour a lot of money to rehab them, and committing to stay for 5 years in exchange. Google the “lottery houses” if you want to learn more. Then go look at the property records of sale for those places. Sale 1 (1998): $250; Sale 2 (2007): $625000.

    • you might be surprised if you actually met some of us, and you began to understand us as individual humans rather than the average of popville comments.

    • cute binary world view.

  • I’ll go back a lot further and say the Metro. Yeah, the city has changed a lot over the past 10 years, and the changes are coming faster and faster. But DC BEFORE Metro and DC AFTER Metro are very different places. And the way the city functions now and the way neighborhoods have developed and changed can all be traced back to the Metro.

  • It goes back a long way, but seen from the vantage poitnt of 2014, one could say it marked a turning point: The decision to revitalize Uion Station. Many take this beautiful place for granted, but for decades it was mothballed and threatened with demolition. That it was saved and restored marked the early start of DC’s renaissance. Union Station!

  • Definitely the Whole Foods on P Street, which used to be an old auto mechanic school. That whole block was a transformation that stunned me for about three years.
    I don’t know how long it’s going to take me to stop rubbing my eyes and blinking at what was formerly the Mid-City Fish Market.

  • I remember when Duplex Diner on 18th St was a roofless shell and had trees growing in it (mid-90s). That intersection at 18th and Florida was hell. The block between 18th and 19th on FL was a crack alley, as was Willard, Riggs, Swann, etc. It was dicey even walking down 17th St between S and R back then.

  • In my immediate neighborhood, I would say:

    Kilimanjaro closing and (eventually) becoming Mint Fitness
    Julio’s (on U St. at NH Ave.) becoming a Starbucks
    PN Hoffman condos on Champlain St.
    Old soundstage/roller rink becoming Harris Teeter

  • Great Question of the Day! Hmm… as far as symbolizing revitalization in the D.C. area:
    Buildings from before my time here, but that I understand had a big effect: the Verizon Center, the Reeves Center, and the renovation of Union Station.
    Since I’ve been in the D.C. area: the new Convention Center, practically all of 14th Street between U Street and Thomas Circle, the Park Place apartment building near the Georgia Ave.-Petworth Metro, and the building at 14th and U with Lost Society in it.
    (The Lost Society building came pretty late in the transformation of 14th and U, but I remember one summer evening ~10 years ago, when it was vacant and I was waiting for the bus at that corner. I was wearing sandals, and when I saw a rat scurrying nearby, all of a sudden my toes felt VERY vulnerable.)

    • Oh, and the Howard Theater. Wow, what a transformation!

    • I love the Lost Society building! At one time (briefly) there was a great little bar on the second floor called the Grand Poobah. Anyone else remember that?

  • Monroe St Market. As someone who grew up in the 90s close by just beyond Eastern Ave in Prince George’s, I’ve long been awaiting the revitalization of upper Northeast DC and adjacent Mt Rainer MD. MSM is turning out great!

  • I think mine would be area around the old Greyhound station behind Union Station. I was told many times not to walk there alone or at night. The area didn’t have a lot of foot traffic after business hours, so if something happened I was on my own. But sometimes you have places to be even when you don’t have an escort, so I remember a lot of long, nervous walks back to Union Station to get home. I was around there this week and was struck by how developed the area has gotten. The station is gone and there are a lot of new buildings, shops, restaurants and a shiny new bike lane. It is still kind of dead on the weekends, but the feeling is completely different than it was before.

    • Oh – speaking of which – the transformation of the old Greyhound station to the offices at 1100 New York Ave!

  • By the way, who knows anything about that bar that is pictured? I live a block away and have always been fascinated by it. What was the name of the bar and when was it opened? What year did it close? Anything about that bar. One neighbor told me 20 years ago or so it was owned by Marion Barry’s family, but not sure about it. thanks.

  • I’ll go with 14th & U – not just the Reeves Center, but the blocks around there but mostly down 14th. When I was in high school (on North Capitol Street, in the late 70’s) “14th & U” was short hand for every vice imaginable – the quickest way to start a fight was to say that you’d seen someone’s Momma at 14th & U last night.

    Then came the Metro and ‘the New U’ and the a wave of new bars (Grand Poobah, Andalusian Dog and others I forget) and then came – what we have now, which is:
    (1) Almost completely unrecognizable as the same neighborhood.
    (2) And maybe not as interesting.
    (3) And certainly too expensive to me to live or even hang out in.
    And to me, those three things together symbolize how DC has changed since the bad old days.

  • Lot’s of great answers to this. One that I haven’t seen others mention yet is State of the Union, the awesome U Street music club in that started to make U Street hip to those who had thought it off-the-grid before. When I moved to DC in 1997 it was the coolest place in town, and started to push (white) people east of 14th Street. It was also a very integrated crowd, which is still often hard to find in DC today.

  • “Fish in the Hood” becoming “Fish in the neighborhood”

  • Totally late to the game on this, but the Tivoli Theater in Columbia Heights is my answer. For those who pointed out DCUSA, you have to realize that site was still a boarded up vacant lot when the lights on the Tivoli sign came on. It was some point in 2005, but I moved nearby in late 2004 and will never forget taking a cab home, up 14th Street, after a late night at work and being met by that glorious sight: just the sign, lit up, and giving some life back to the street. The whole neighborhood took off in a hurry after that, but that really was the first time for that it felt like revitalization would be real.

    Next runner up is all of the Gallery Place area. My now-wife used to come down from NYC on the (old, _real_ Chinatown buses) in 2003-4. At that time, I always told her to go to the Hooters on 7th Street if I wasn’t there to greet her off the bus, because it was the safest place in the area, or so it seemed. When you’re telling your girl to go to Hooters bc it legitimately seems the best choice for her safety, you get the picture.

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